This story is part of “Parenting in a Pandemic,” WTOP’s continuing coverage of how parents are dealing with childcare, schooling and more through the coronavirus pandemic.
Kids might be frustrated or upset about starting a new school year without leaving the house or seeing their friends, but a counselor offering advice for helping them cope advises not making an overly big deal about it.
“If we can stay calm and not get on that emotional roller coaster of stress, it’s going to be a much easier transition for our kids,” said Erin VanLuven, a licensed clinical social worker with Kaiser Permanente in Maryland.
Remember, the current situation is temporary. Although most kids in the D.C. area are distance learning, kids eventually return to schools and classrooms.
“Don’t get caught up in catastrophizing – thinking their entire elementary experience is over,” VanLuven said. “They’re little barometers, and when the pressure goes up, their stress goes up. We have an obligation to make sure that we’re making sure to regulate ourselves because they’re watching.”
A helpful routine you can establish with kids, even as young as preschool or kindergarten, is to end their school day by checking in.
Ask, “how was your day? What was your favorite part? What didn’t you like?”
“That gives you information about how they’re experiencing the transition, and you can make adjustments as you go,” VanLuven said.
Some children are bummed out about starting a school year without extracurricular activities.
“The big message here is just don’t give up,” she said.
VanLuven said find ways for kids who are typically active in clubs or sports to have opportunities in socially distant ways to get small group activities.
“There are still things we can do,” VanLuven said. “Yes, it will be different, and it’s not ideal, but we want to make sure that they’re still getting some of those experiences.”
For student-athletes, doing drills, for example, can help maintain muscle and build emotional confidence. “And not just sort of lounging and playing video games or watching TV after school’s over with,” VanLuven said.
After the school day ends, VanLuven recommends getting kids outside for at least an hour doing something physical, such as swinging on a playset, biking or running around the block.
“Their little brains need that physical exercise. Ours do too, as adults, but theirs need it so much more,” VanLuven said.
Also, build in time to practice what VanLuven calls “calm-down skills” for younger kids and “coping or stress tolerance” for teenagers.
You can help kids relax and lower stress with activities or apps that promote mindfulness. Some activities include relatable characters from the Thomas and Friends children’s cartoon series.
“Drinking cold water, or using the Calm app to do a mindfulness practice with Percy or Thomas the Train, type of thing,” VanLuven said.
Adjustments that can help kids with the at-home learning process:
- Consider stacking their device on top of something elevated to allow them to engage with school work while standing up and moving in place.
- Remove digital distractions with pop-up blockers and putting the device into “do not disturb” mode during school time.
- To remove in-house distractions, consider getting them noise-canceling headphones.